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Pak. releases 269 Indian fishermen

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD Sept. 4. Pakistan today released 269 Indian fishermen out of 343 lodged in different jails in Karachi.

Their release was expected three months ago but it was delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles and dispute over the number of vessels confiscated from the captured fishermen. Pakistan says the delay was due to the time taken in repairing their boats.

The release took place in Karachi at a ceremony attended by the First Secretary in the Indian High Commission, R.K. Sharma, and officials of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. The fishermen left for home in the evening by their boats.

Today's release is a follow up to the confidence building measures (CBMs) announced by the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, on May 6 in response to the peace initiative by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on April 18 and his subsequent statement in the Lok Sabha on May 2.

In the wake of Mr. Jamali's CBMs, Pakistan had released on May 17, 20 prisoners, including six Sikhs. But the fishermen's release was delayed as Pakistan officials initially released only 22 boats of the total 41 vessels seized along with 269 fishermen.

The remaining 74 Indian fishermen, who were caught along with 18 of their boats, are expected to be released soon. All the fishermen hail from Gujarat. There is no clarity yet about the fate of the remaining Sikh youth who ended in Pakistan jails after being cheated by touts who influenced them to go to Europe via land border.

India is also expected to reciprocate the gesture by releasing 74 Pakistani fishermen once the Pakistan High Commission completes the formalities for their identification. The Pakistani fishermen are now lodged in the Jamnagar prison in Gujarat. A Pakistani fishermen's delegation is planning to go to India soon to get them released.

A spokesman of the Pakistan Foreign Office here hoped that India would follow suit and expedite the release of Pakistani prisoners.

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